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What is a Fox Snake?

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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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Two species of North American snakes are commonly known as fox snakes. The spotted snake is named as such due to the musky scent, similar to that of a fox, which it emits when in danger. Both the eastern fox snake and western fox snake are found throughout select northern and Midwestern areas of the United States.

Fox snakes have round eyes and tan bodies that feature 30 to 40 dark, red-brown patches of coloration. Western varieties typically sport more splotches than their eastern cousins. The snakes' bodies measure from 3 to 6 feet (.9 to 1.8 meters) in length. The musky scent that the snake emits when in danger is released from its anal glands.

The yellow-bellied, rust-headed creatures prefer to eat rodents, and can consume prey larger than five times the diameter of its own head. Birds are also in the snakes' diet, as well as frogs. Some fox snakes also eat eggs when they are available. Though prey can be swallowed whole, it is normally eaten through constriction.

Due to its appearance, this ratsnake is often mistaken for the poisonous Massassauga rattlesnake, and killed on sight. Fox snakes, however, are not poisonous creatures. Generally the snakes are considered gentle reptiles, and do not pose a threat to humans. The snakes do take advantage of their similar appearance, posing as rattlesnakes by shaking their tails, often to deter possible predators. Some animals that eat the fox snake include large mammals, hawks, and other snakes.

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Both types of snakes are listed as threatened or endangered under the Species at Risk Act. Eastern and Western varieties of the fox snake do not overlap in territory. While the former lives only in parts of Michigan and Ohio, the latter resides across Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, western Michigan, and Iowa.

Though they can climb trees and swim well, fox snakes spend most of their lives on the ground. Eastern varieties prefer wet climates near the Great Lakes, while the western snakes are typically located in farmlands and forests. The fox snake typically makes its den inside logs, tree stumps, or leaf piles. Winter months are spent hibernating in mammal burrows, wells, or other underground areas.

Reproduction for the fox snake takes place during the spring months. Months after fertilization, female snakes lay 10 to 20 eggs. Young snakes, which typically hatch between August and October, can be 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30.5 centimeters) long at birth.

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